Sunday, May 18, 2008

This is what I plan to say when I introduce Grace Nono at her San Francisco event tonite:

Welcome and thank you for being here.
Perhaps you are here because you’ve heard of Grace Nono before and know of her great work and you weren’t going to miss this SF event.
Perhaps you are a devoted fan of Kularts.
Perhaps you are a Filipino or Fil Am who attends events like this to feel a connection to the homeland and to a community.
Perhaps you are not a Fil Am but who has an interest in Filipino culture, specially in indigenous Filipino cultures.

If all of the above are correct, we thank you for coming.

But I also want to suggest that perhaps you are here because you heard a call, a tug, an intimation, a gut instinct; you feel drawn to something that you don’t quite know how to say in words. And this call is perhaps coming from deep within your soul, your Filipino soul, your indigenous soul. You came here because you sense that this might be a place to meet that which is calling you.

According to a Mayan indigenous story, the Gods want to fall in love with humans who know how to make music, make art, make crafts, make poetry, make beautiful language and weave beautiful stories. The gods communicate their love and pleasure through the shaman who then shares it with his/her community. Thus, the circle of life is maintained and sustained.

In Filipino indigenous cultures, we also have our shamans who are called babaylan, mumbaki, ma-aram, balyan and many other names, whose function is similar -- to connect the seen and unseen worlds. Primary babaylans are still practicing in their indigenous communities in many parts of the Philippines.

Our Filipino indigenous communities join the fourth world (other IP communities) in the work of recovering the Sacred. Sacred meaning the wholeness that was always there, before we were fractured by the march of civilization that began 10,000years ago and sort of went into hyperspeed in the era of modernity starting 500 yrs ago.

Although fractured, there still remains within us, a memory of that Sacred Wholeness. A Memory that we try to work with through our process of decolonization; through the work of re-connecting and re-membering what our own lumads still know of this Wholeness.

This is not to romantice or exoticize IPS (we know a lot of this goes on), I merely want to acknowledge the debt we owe to the ancient ones and our ancestors. There are traumatic consequences to this nonpayment of debts and we see it all around us (war, misery, depression, shame, guilt, etc)…and still in the midst of this, there has been continous creative energy going up to the gods to pay our debts, to make the gods fall in love with us again…and one of those of who works to create beauty, healing, and a path to sacred wholeness is Grace Nono.

I met Grace Nono at a babaylan conference in Manila three years ago. At her presentation, she said she is not a babaylan but an artist informed by babaylans. From a very early age, she felt drawn to this figure - the priestess of prehistoric lore. Her literary encounters with them led to a life long desire to follow the call and to embody the forms in which the call of the babaylan manifested itself. Her body of work has been called alternative music, world music, roots music, a fusion of the indigenous and contemporary, interdisciplinary, original, etc. She is multiawarded and has performed in many places around the Philippines and the world. But in her own words, she says:
“I have been drawn to the study of sacred chants from our elders. More than the search for intellectual understanding of my heritage as a Filipino, I see it as a signifying point in my journey as an artist, where there is nothing more meaningful, nothing more satisfying, than to use my voice to allow me, and hopefully those around me, to enter such state of connectedness, humility, and grace.”

I wouldn’t list all of Grace achievements here. You can google her and read about the Tao Music Foundation and other materials that have been written about her and her multidimensional body of work.

Indeed, this is what resonates deeply with my own work as well. At the heart and core of what we commonly believe is that Filipinos have a gift to give to the cultures we live in….as long as our memory of our indigeneity is intact, as long as the work that we do is embodied, as long as we persist in creating babaylan energy – against all odds – we will be whole and we will experience the everyday as sacred, as interconnected and interdependent.

I am looking forward to her new book, the Shared Voice: Oralist Narratives from the Philippines, where she documents the interface of music, spirit, and healing among Philippine shamans and other ritual specialists.

Tonite, I am looking forward to the manifest form of this interface in this space. At the end of her chants, there will be a participatory moment of about 25min. At that time, we will invite you to offer your own prayer, or insight, or question. Offer it in the spirit of indigeneity
or that which calls you Home,
calls you and I to a Sacred wholeness.

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